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How to Pick Up Job Skills

Best Job Training Happens in Preschool, Economist Finds

A good reason to seriously consider enrolling your kids in preschool: it seems that the skills that help workers gain better job opportunities are learned in preschool, according to economist James Heckman.

Heckman found in his study that employee training programs for unskilled youth in their early 20s don't make an impact on job prospects, and in some cases are detrimental to the worker's quest to find a job.This is because the students are missing the abilities learned in preschool that are needed to learn new things, which Heckman terms "soft skills." These include the ability to "pay attention and focus, being curious and open to new experiences, and being able to control your temper and not get frustrated."

In fact, the Perry Preschool Project has data to support Heckman's theory. In that study, researchers followed a number of subjects whom them placed in two groups — one that went to preschool two hours a day, for five days a week, and another that led normal lives without enrolling in preschool. When they followed up with the participants about 20 years later, they found that the boys who went to preschool earned 50 percent more than those who didn't. The girls who went to preschool were 50 percent more likely to have a savings account versus the girls who didn't.

NPR says:

If [the kids] learn these skills now, they'll have them for the rest of their lives. But research shows that if they don't learn them now, it becomes harder and harder as they get older. By the time the time they're in a job training program in their twenties, it's often too late.

Heckman is an economist so he thinks about this as a cost-benefit analysis. To him, the message is clear: If you want 21 year-olds to have jobs, the best time to train them is in the first few years of life.

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